The British Library has acquired the archive of Boosey & Hawkes, which comprises hundreds of boxes of documents relating to the business of the firm for about 100 years until around 1980.

The Library describes the acquisition as ‘undoubtedly one of the most important music acquisitions in recent years, and in terms of size, it is certainly the largest.’

The archive contains documents relating to most aspects of the publication process and the promotion of composers and their works, including about 50 Stravinsky proofs and about 250 letters, and approximately 100 letters from Benjamin Britten, whose works the company published until the mid 1960s. Other papers in the archive relate to performance, copyright, royalties, contracts and other legal matters.

The modern company was formed in 1930 when the two founder firms merged. One was established at the end of the 18th century as a lending library by John Boosey, and began to publish popular operas from the mid-nineteenth century; the other, created by William Henry Hawkes, provided editions of woodwind and brass music.

From 1930 to 1980, the firm produced editions of light music, popular songs, music for brass and military bands, dance orchestras, and published works by some of the leading classical composers of the 20th century, including Bartók, Richard Strauss, Rachmaninov, Britten, Prokofiev and Copland.

The archive is currently being arranged and catalogued, and will be available in the British Library’s reading rooms as soon as this is completed.